How the wildcat really works, and how teams defend it

My analysis of this is available over at the New York Times’s Fifth Down Blog. Check it out there. Apologies for the fact that the diagrams got a bit jumbled and are in the wrong order. I’m hoping to get that fixed now.

  • http://thebssreport.blogspot.com/ Payne Train

    Great analysis of the Wildcat. The videos really help in demonstrating how it actually works. The angle that they are shot from is much more illustrative than the typical angle that is shown on TV. One thing that the article made me curious about: what makes Miami so good at the Wildcat. It seems like they have more success than other teams running similar formations (maybe they don’t, but I don’t have the numbers to prove it). Is is better personnel (Ronnie, Ricky, or the line)? Do they have a better understanding of it? Or maybe the Miami coaches are better at play calling?

    My initial suspicions are that it is a combination of Miami having a strong run blocking line, an above average jet sweep threat in Ricky Williams, and an excellent trigger man in Ronnie Brown.

  • OldSouth

    As usual, the ideas are great. But some of those sentences have an awful lot of independent ideas would be much more readable as separate sentences. Such as the following, which took me four tries to decipher:

    The history need only be briefly recounted: The Wildcat, whose roots lie in both the spread offenses dominating college football today and in the much older tradition of “single-wing” offenses prevalent before the rise of the under-center “tee formation,” became known at the University of Arkansas after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn (currently the offensive coordinator at Auburn) brought the series with him from Springdale, Ark., high school.

    But I can’t blame you. Looming megafirm job + this site + writing for the Times/EDSBS/Dr Saturday + being who you are is a hell of a lot more than I could have on my plate at any one time.

  • Disgustipate

    It’s a good article, but I’ve got to take two exceptions to it.

    The first is that the Dolphins have largely abandoned the unbalanced line. The Wildcat 2.0(Basically all the snaps in it outside of the Falcons game), has had a regular balanced line with a bookend of two tight ends. The elimination of the QB split wide from the formation allows them to have two TEs AND a fullback(Where previously it was one TE and a H-Back/FB). This is significant because it allows them to run towards the left side of the formation much more readily, where last year 95% of the Wildcat plays were through just a handful of gaps on the right side.

    Secondly, I’d disagree with the notion that keeping the Quarterback in for the Wildcat 1.0 caused any personnel package confusion in opposing defenses. The personnel package(1 QB, 5 OL, 2 TE(Or 1 TE/1 FB), and 3 RBs) is something that surely raised eyebrows as soon as the coach responsible for identifying opposing substitutions on the Patriots sideline saw it the first time.

    I’d also like to mention the Dolphins vs. the Colts threw in a new wrinkle which I think might be best described as a Shotgun Triple Option. Instead of Ricky Williams completing the Jet Sweep/Fake Jet Sweep motion, several times he stopped, with Ricky Williams and Lousaka Polite bracketing Ronnie Brown, who appeared to make an honest to goodness option read on what the backside defensive end was playing.

  • Bobby Cox

    ***Disgustipate said: I’d also like to mention the Dolphins vs. the Colts threw in a new wrinkle which I think might be best described as a Shotgun Triple Option. Instead of Ricky Williams completing the Jet Sweep/Fake Jet Sweep motion, several times he stopped, with Ricky Williams and Lousaka Polite bracketing Ronnie Brown, who appeared to make an honest to goodness option read on what the backside defensive end was playing.***

    Yeah that was a zone read they did it some last year too, it is not a triple option though the pitch back is really just a lead blocker for the keeper.

    http://www.nfl.com/videos/miami-dolphins/09000d5d80c5f84e/Ricky-Williams-Highlight-WK-10-vs-Seahawks-2008

    http://www.nfl.com/videos/miami-dolphins/09000d5d80c5feae/Ronnie-Brown-Highlight-WK-10-vs-Seahawks-2008

  • Ted Seay

    A series of football plays based on the Jet Sweep? In the NFL? Come on, Chris, that s**t’ll mever work at that level — too much speed on defense.

    ;)

  • http://smartfootball.com Chris

    OldSouth: I do my best to get everything in top shape before going live, but to some extent that is just the nature of publishing on the internet. Far and away my least favorite thing about it is the tight timeline, and the lack of opportunity to edit things. Nor am I publishing for the New Yorker or another magazine with fantastic editors. It’s pretty much just what I can get done under tight time constraints. (And it is not my career so I usually have a fixed amount of time I can dedicate to any one project.)

    I do hope the quality remains high but, yes, one of the things that worries me the most about my publishing cycle is that the editing process is always quite abbreviated, and I don’t get much — or any — help.

  • RH Level

    Why does my blood pressure spike when I hear “lol gimmick offense”.

    Guess I’m too big of a Malzahn homer. = /

  • delgadog12

    I believe the dolphins also ran a version of what you would call an inverted veer. I would call it an inverted zone read. They gave the jet to ricky, while leaving the end on the playside unblocked. I dont know if ronnie read him or not, but it worked. The previous week ronnie faked it, they left the end unblocked and he ran it inside. This week he gave it to him and ricky sped around the frozen end. Do you think he could read that end? or was it predetermined? I could see it with a set back, but a jet motioning back seems risky.

  • Tim F.

    Payne Train, this is the real question, and one I’d love answered because, DAMN, I hate hearing it called a gimmick. I think: #1 is the personnel. Saban had some success late in the season with both Rs on the field, Cameron less so. It’s a good fit for them. #2 is commitment to it; they know it works so they are getting to know it truly intimately. It doesn’t even upset the QBs “rhythm” because of the amount of practice. Well, those 2 points are the base… #3, but maybe most importantly, is Dan Hennings exquisite play calling. If you watch Miami closely, it’s amazing how Miami is able to keep the ball moving on so little on such small, often times predictable plays, by calling just the right play at just the right time — and this is whether or not it’s a Wildcat play.

    Certainly, I’d love to know how much reading of the defense is occurring (this is probably the most difficult aspect of it, not really knowing how teams are going to defend it) and how often Ronnie is taking his options. Early on barely at all, certainly, but in the tail end of the season you could see it coming into play with the sweep, counter, or hole selection. (I think Hennings play calling makes the pass option irrelevant.)